Randy Brown asked:
January is decision time for basketball teams at all levels. This key period in the season brings character, perseverance, and toughness to the forefront. All of your team’s preparation, stretching back to the hot summer workouts, is challenged in this difficult period of a few weeks. Your team has three paths to take that will determine your final destination. Which path will your team take?
For the most part, January is about games and practices. Conditioning, drill work, and the implementation of new offenses and defenses is pretty much behind you. Your team prepares for the upcoming opponent in practice and competes to win every game. A few more practices are interrupted soon by another game. This part of the season is an endless sea of preparation and games, with little true practice time available.
Every coach in January declares that “improving every day” is the goal of his team. This is such a critical part of the season because teams historically will go one of three ways. The path they take will determine the quality of the entire season. Here are the three options that all teams face this time of year:
Path #1-Teams get worse as the season continues-For a multitude of reasons, some teams run out of steam this time of year. A deterioration of fundamental skills and focus are symptoms of a team giving up. The biggest culprit is poor practice habits which has a huge impact of practice quality. The coach and his players may show the strain of a tough season and lack the drive and enthusiasm of previous months. When a team hits the wall it is impossible to improve on a daily basis. The result shows up on the scoreboard as the schedule is littered with losses. A good coach will head off any indications of his teams losing its fire and make the proper adjustments. Sometimes a team just quits without really telling anyone. A great coach once told me that when this attitude sets in, “it’s out for track”. Unfortunately this happens to a great many teams each January.
Path #2-Teams hit a wall and become mediocre-Usually without realizing it, many teams fall into this category. Many coaches also adopt mediocrity and the effects of their attitude rub off on their team. Practice quality levels off and the “juice” in workouts is missing. In January, players are either excited about practice or not. The latter will produce bland practices and players simply go through the motions. Ask your players about their practice motivation level and you will find out a lot about them as a team. I encourage any coach in this situation to address mediocrity and do all you can to motivate your team to find a spark for the rest of the year. Be excited and let your players see it. It’s still not too late to make it a special year, but you need to be aware of your team’s personality each day.
Path #3-Teams get better each day and commit to the rest of the season-This is where coaching and playing basketball really gets FUN. January is the time to catch a second or third wind and start playing like the team you are capable of being. Only a select few each year get better at this time a year. Take a look at your league after the season and you will agree that only a few teams turned up their play and got better as a team. Were you one of them? Keeping practice short, fresh, and demanding are keys. Keeping game preparation concise will also help keep player’s concentration high. If you have experienced this “high” of late season improvement, you can attest to its power. Players care more about themselves, their teammates and coaches, and the outcome of the season. Practices are full of energy and focus and daily improvement is the result. Games are seen as the ultimate opportunity and are taken seriously. When this happens to your team you realize why you got into coaching in the first place. This time of year is what coaching the great game of basketball is all about.
Good coaches are aware of the three paths and find ways to avoid path #1 and #2. This season as your team hits mid-January, I encourage you to take the high road. Demand accountability and execution from your team, yourself, and your coaches. Put every ounce of sweat and sacrifice into January practices and travel the path less taken to success.